Eleven-year-old Haughton Academy student Lennon Thompson was left feeling deflated when he turned up to compete in the Darlington College round of the national FutureChef competition because he was a year too young.
But judges allowed him to take part in the cook off as invaluable experience and were so impressed they awarded him a special commendation – and a place in next year’s local final.
Judge Rockliffe Hall chef Paul O’Hara said: “I could not believe the quality of his food and I know he will be a chef one day, with his own restaurant, and I would like to work with him.”
Lennon said: “I had been practising all week so was upset when they said I had to be 12. But I can’t believe that I am in next year’s local final. I’m so pleased.
“I started cooking when I was nine with a spaghetti bolognaise and now enjoy cooking Asian food.”
He was supported on the night by another Haughton Academy student Sydnee Flanagan, 14, who also reached the local final.
The local final was won by 14-year-old Eleanor Rea from Saint Leonard’s Catholic School, Durham.
Other competitors included: Courtney Burton and Natash Riddle, of Longfield Academy, Darlington, Abigail Charlton and Lauren Evans, of Greenfield Community College, Shildon, Ellie Clement and Jade Dent, of Parkside Academy, Willington, and Lenie Zeze, of St Leonard’s.
The annual FutureChef competition, a prestigious initiative organised by Springboard, is designed to attract new blood into the industry.
Winners move from school heats to town and regional contests culminating in a national final in London judged by some of the country’s top chefs.
Students are given an hour to plan, prepare, cook and serve a main dish to a panel of judges with ingredients costing under £5.
Darlington College hosted the first of eight regional events and provided a second judge, catering tutor Dawn Cobb-Neate. She said: “The standard of food was extremely high and all the students taking part did a great job under considerable pressure. There were some great flavours and seasoning and I think they will all be future chefs.”
Springboard’s programmes manager Joanne Greenall said: “The Springboard FutureChef initiative is the biggest and most successful national school cooking programme. It inspires students to learn to cook, introduces them and their schools to well respected industry chefs and helps them gain anything from a valuable life skill to an informed career path into the UK’s hospitality industry.”